Bob Avakian has written that one of three things that has “to happen in order for there to be real and lasting change for the better: People have to fully confront the actual history of this country and its role in the world up to today, and the terrible consequences of this.” (See “3 Things that have to happen in order for there to be real and lasting change for the better.”)
In that light, and in that spirit, “American Crime” is a regular feature of revcom.us. Each installment focuses on one of the 100 worst crimes committed by the U.S. rulers—out of countless bloody crimes they have carried out against people around the world, from the founding of the U.S. to the present day.
See all the articles in this series.
THE CRIME: Since 1946, the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA) has trained military officers from countries all over Latin America. The school’s curriculum includes sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence, and interrogation tactics—including the use of torture, rape, disappearances, assassinations, and mass killings.
CIA and U.S. Army manuals used at the SOA have detailed torture techniques and advocated extortion, blackmail, and the targeting of civilian populations. A former political prisoner in Paraguay described how a section of these manuals gives “interrogators” instructions on “how to keep electric shock victims alive and responsive” and “recommends dousing the victims’ heads and bodies with salt water, and includes a sketch showing how this ‘treatment’ should be carried out.” Hundreds of thousands of people in Latin America have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced to flee their homes and become refugees by armies and death squads led by military officers trained at the SOA.
Here are just some of the criminals who graduated from the SOA and the crimes they carried out:
- Emilio Massera, navy commander in chief, Argentina: Under the military junta led by Massera and others in the late 1970s, 30,000 people were declared “enemies of the state,” held as prisoners, tortured, dropped from airplanes, and murdered in other horrible ways.
- Roberto D’Aubuisson, major, El Salvador: Head of the right-wing death squads involved in the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the 1981 massacre of 900 people at El Mozote and many other atrocities.
- Efraín Ríos Montt, general, Guatemala: In the 1980s, this Christian fascist headed a military dictatorship, with strong support from the U.S. under Ronald Reagan, that carried out rape, torture, executions, and acts of genocide against tens of thousands of native Mayan people as part of a “scorched earth” campaign to wipe out opposition to the government.
- Luis Alonso Discua, general, Honduras: Founder of a death squad known as Battalion 3-16, which was responsible for many disappearances and murders of government opponents.
- Raoul Cédras, general, Haiti: Led the 1991 coup which overthrew the elected government headed by Jean-Bertrand Aristide and established a brutal military regime.
This school for mass murderers and torturers was first established in Panama as the U.S. Army Caribbean Training Center. It was renamed the School of the Americas under President Kennedy in 1961 and relocated to Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1984. The SOA was declared closed in December 2000 but then reopened one month later with a new name—the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHINSEC. Since the name switch and other cosmetic changes, graduates have continued to be involved in various coups and attempted coups, including the June 2009 military coup that overthrew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. Out of 25 Colombian graduates from 2001 to 2003, 12 have either been charged with a serious crime or commanded units whose members had reportedly committed multiple extrajudicial executions.
THE CRIMINALS: Every U.S. administration since World War 2 has relied on the School of the Americas to train military officers from Latin America.
More than 65,000 military officers have undergone training at the SOA. In addition to those mentioned above, SOA graduates who have headed military coups and murderous regimes include: Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama; Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina; Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru; Guillermo Rodríguez of Ecuador; and Hugo Banzer Suárez of Bolivia. Officers trained at the SOA have been and are in the command of armies of numerous countries in Latin America that enforce oppressive rule under U.S. domination.
THE ALIBI: The stated purpose of the school is to “promote military professionalism, foster cooperation among the multinational military forces in Latin America, and expand Latin American armed forces’ knowledge of United States customs and traditions.” Defenders of the school argue that any human rights abuses committed by graduates were not because of their training at Fort Benning, but in spite of it. They also emphasize that only a small number of their total graduates have been accused of abuses.
THE ACTUAL MOTIVE: U.S. imperialism emerged from World War 2 as the most dominant military, economic, and political power in the world—but it also faced a challenge from the then-socialist Soviet Union, the founding of the People’s Republic of China led by Mao Zedong in 1949, and emerging struggles for national liberation in many other parts of the world. In this context, the School of the Americas played a decisive strategic role—especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, which the U.S. imperialists claimed as their “backyard.” After socialism was defeated and capitalism came back to power in the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s, the Soviet Union developed into an imperialist power. By the 1970s, there was a "Cold War" rivalry between the U.S. and Soviet imperialist superpowers. The Soviets posed a challenge to the U.S. and the West around the world--including through their influence over movements and armed groups fighting U.S.-backed regimes in Central and Latin America and other parts of the world.
The U.S., in turn, countered with even more repression, oppression, and backing for reactionary regimes. In this light, the training of military officers from Latin America was critical, enabling the U.S. to rely on these armed forces to act in the interests of U.S. imperialism. That has meant carrying out genocidal terror and mass murder against insurgencies and civilian populations, bloody coups to overthrow elected governments that were considered a challenge to those U.S. interests, and other crimes. With major shifts in the world in the past several decades, the U.S. rulers now face different challenges to their empire—but maintaining domination over their “backyard” remains crucial to their overall interests.
REPEAT OFFENDERS: Today’s School of the Americas, WHINSEC, continues to play an important role in maintaining U.S. domination over the countries in the Western Hemisphere. Under the pretext of “counter-narcotics” and “anti-terrorism” operations, the U.S. has pushed to establish permanent joint security operations with Mexico (the Merida Initiative) and with the countries of Central America (Central American Regional Security Initiative, or CARSI), giving the U.S. military even more direct influence over regional military forces and the freedom to operate openly in these countries. SOA/WHINSEC has an ongoing role in training military officers from these countries to operate even more closely under the command and control of the U.S. military.